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The Little Foxes

The Little Foxes is a 1939 play by Lillian Hellman, considered a classic of 20th century drama. Its title comes from Chapter 2, Verse 15 of the Song of Solomon in the King James version of the Bible.

Background on The Little Foxes

The Little Foxes is a play written in 1939 by Lillian Hellman. The play centers on Regina Hubbard Giddens, a southern woman who struggles for independence within the restrictions of early twentieth century life, where only sons can be considered a legal heir. Regina’s rapacious brothers are wealthy men because of this, and Regina is left to rely on her wheelchair-bound, sickly husband. Her brothers want to marry Regina’s daughter to her first cousin in order for them to gain control of her husband’s fortune, and when this plan fails, they then hatch a plan to steal the man’s railroad shares.

Regina’s husband, as a result, tells her he plans to cut her completely out of his will, but he has a heart attack during his confession and she makes no attempt to assist him. Regina takes this opportunity to blackmail her brothers about her knowledge of their plot unless they give her three quarters of the ownership of their new cotton mill. This causes her to lose her daughter’s respect and love, as her daughter is disgusted by her greed and abandons her. Regina is left a very wealthy woman indeed, but is left alone forever. 

The role of greed

One of the major, and most obvious, themes in The Little Foxes is greed. Regina’s brother Oscar married his wife so that he would inherit her family’s cotton field and plantation. He later wants his son to marry Regina’s daughter so that he can gain control over Regina’s husband’s estate and fortune, even though they are first cousins. Regina’s brothers aim to build a cotton mill but require an extra seventy five thousand dollars. Because they cannot get it from their sister, they decide to rob them.

Later in the story, after Regina’s husband tells her that he will cut her out of the will but he has a heart attack before he is able to do so, she does not even attempt to save him. Instead, she simply watches her husband die before her. Greed motivates almost every person and action in the story; from her brothers’ manipulation and gall to the insatiable greed in Regina’s own cold heart. In the end, though, Regina’s brothers end up alienated and she dies alone, after being abandoned by her only daughter. Those who were motivated by greed suffered grave consequences for their actions. This theme remains relevant today, with the debates ensuing over minimum wage and taxes for the rich. 

Origins of The Little Foxes

The title of the play is from the Song of Solomon in the King James Bible. The line, from the second chapter and the fifteenth line, reads, “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the wines: for our vines have tender grapes.” In the play, the Hubbard family is drawn most certainly from Hellman’s own Marx relatives. Her mother was a debutante of Alabama, and her grandparents were Leonard Newhouse, a wholesale liquor dealer from Demopolis, and Sophie Marx, the heiress of a very successful banking family. Sophie, said Hellman, took every opportunity to mock and belittle her father in front of her mother for his meager business sense. The constant quarrelling between the two families, Hellman admit, was a source of inspiration for the events in The Little Foxes.  

The original Broadway production of The Little Foxes starred Tallulah Bankhead as Regina. It premiered on the fifteenth of February in 1939 at the National Theatre in New York City. The show ran for four hundred and ten performances before beginning a long tour of the United States. Produced by Herman Shumlin, it also starred Carl Benton Reid, Frank Conroy, and Patricia Collinge.

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